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  Iraq: Who should run it after the war?

Amman/Brussels, 25 March 2003: The International Crisis Group (ICG) urges establishment of a UN transitional civil authority in Iraq as soon as possible after hostilities have ceased. Both the UN Secretariat and the United States are reluctant to follow this path, but there is no better option.

A new ICG report* published today, War in Iraq: Political Challenges after the Conflict, assesses options for governing post-war Iraq. The first considered is assumption of full authority by the U.S. However, this risks alienating Iraqis and would confirm the view held by many that Washington nurtures imperial designs. It would also create a serious anti-American backlash in the broader region.

An alternative proposal is rapid establishment of an interim Iraqi authority to which the U.S. would transfer power and with which it would jointly govern. This has garnered more support but is also flawed. The fundamental problem is that no pre-identifiable, optimal Iraqi candidates exist, and too little is known about the actual preferences or aspirations of people inside the country.

"Members of the exiled opposition have staked claims", said Loulouwa al-Rachid, ICG Iraq analyst, "but there are serious doubts about the degree to which they are genuinely representative. Inside Iraq, numerous forces will probably come forward quickly but they are likely to be dominated by those who gained prominence during the years of Baath party rule".

ICG Middle East Program Director Robert Malley said:
"It would be a mistake to short-circuit the domestic political contest by prematurely picking a winner. Under either of these scenarios, the bulk of Iraqis inside Iraq – Sunni and Shiite, Arab, Kurd, and others who have been brutally disenfranchised for over three decades – would remain voiceless".

Therefore the best road for Iraq and the international community is to set up a UN transitional civil authority with full executive/legislative powers to run the country until a legitimate, democratic, permanent Iraqi authority can be established. To minimise perceptions of foreign domination and make most effective use of local resources, existing administrative structures ought to be utilised to the maximum extent possible. A strong international security presence under U.S. command will be necessary – but, optimally, established as soon as possible as multinational and endorsed by the Security Council. The UN should quickly start organising elections so that Iraqis can choose local and sectoral representatives who can serve as leaders on the national scene.

The task will not be easy. The UN is not eager to play this role; it has not planned for it; it will have to coordinate with a very significant U.S. military presence on the ground; and the longer it is there, the more Iraqis will chafe at not being in charge. However it is the best way to minimise perceptions of foreign domination, make best use of local resources and ensure security and law and order. Only then can Iraq develop its own indigenous, pluralistic polity capable of selecting legitimate leadership.

Katy Cronin (London) +44-(0)20 7981 0330
email: [email protected]

Francesca Lawe-Davies (Brussels) +32-(0)2-536 00 65
Kathy Ward (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
*Read the full ICG report on our website: www.crisisweb.org


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